THEY came in the hope of unseating one of the Billabong Cup's true powerhouse clubs, but the Eastern Wanderers learned yesterday they still have a long way to go.
Hanwood FC sent a strong message to the ambitious Wagga outfit, claiming a hard-fought 5-1 victory at Hanwood Oval.
Last year's minor premiers had to do it the hard way, spending almost the entire second half one player short after goalkeeper Adam Reid was sent off for handling the ball outside the box.
But even with a man advantage, the Eastern Wanderers were unable to make it count, with Hanwood dominating possession and territory throughout.
"It was a great hit-out and a pretty even game," Hanwood coach Anthony Agresta said.
"They really put it to us before we skipped away just before half-time.
"They're a solid team - it's going to be a very tough trip to go and face them over there next time, that's for sure."
The scoreline didn't quite reflect the match, but then again, it did perfectly - gallant as they were, the Wanderers had no answers once HFC found their groove.
But for the much of the first half, the Wanderers were fierce and disruptive in their mission to let Hanwood know they had a fight on their hands.
They even took a shock 1-0 lead after 17 minutes, when Jamie Rankin latched onto a looping ball from the back and expertly chipped the on-rushing Reid from outside the box.
The goal silenced the Hanwood faithful, but they weren't quiet for long.
Just after the half-hour mark, Daniel Draskovic rose at the back post to head in a Joey Schirripa corner kick and make it 1-1 - and that was enough to jolt Hanwood's threatening forward trio of Matt Fearon, Kyle Greaves and Andrew Quarisa into action.
All three combined to put Hanwood in front just a few minutes later, with Fearon applying the finishing touch past Wanderers gloveman Robert Fry - and moments later, Greaves turned on the afterburners to tear up the left-hand side, cut onto his right foot and make it 3-1.
The visitors thought they had a penalty in the dying embers of the first half when the lively Bai Fahnbulleh took a tumble in the box - but when he arose, he was greeted with a yellow card for diving.
Hanwood appeared to put the final nail in the Wagga coffin just a few moments into the second stanza when Greaves emulated Rankin's lofted finish to increase the margin to three goals, but the Wanderers weren't done with just yet.
Fahnbulleh put his pace to good use on the counter-attack and got in behind the Hanwood defence, prompting Reid to come out and stifle the opportunity.
But he used his hands in doing so, giving referee Diego Menegazzo no choice but to show him a straight red card.
Agresta shuffled his deck, sacrificing Quarisa for Daniel Johnson, who pulled on the gloves to provide a makeshift solution.
And he was sent straight into the action, using his quick reflexes to deny a Fahnbulleh header that would have brought the Wanderers right back into the game.
"It easily could have been 4-2 and put us on the back foot. He did a great job," Agresta said.
HFC had numerous chances to finish the game off once and for all from there, but finally managed to do so 12 minutes from time, when Fearon was played in by a pinpoint Schirripa cross.
While Fry got a hand to it, the shot was still powerful enough to find the back of the net and seal all three points for the home side.
Agresta's message for his side after the match was simple - keep going.
"It's State Cup next week and a trip away, and then we've got YFC the week after," he said.
"There's some good tests coming up but this was the one we needed - we've had a couple of sluggish weeks and we needed a good run."